This post is for all the Mommies in northern Virginia of children with disabilities.
We live in Fairfax County. Last year was an amazing school year for our six year old daughter Sofija and we felt certain that she was exactly where she needed to be. This year. Not so much. She is now in a room where she is the oldest, biggest, and highest functioning student. There are six other students of which two are completely non-verbal and have NO assistive technology. The classroom is literally 1/3 the size of the room she was in last year. There is not even room for them to bring their coats or backpacks into the class. The primary teacher is a first year teacher who has ZERO ABA training and the two instructional assistant spots apparently have a revolving door of substitutes. I literally cannot count the number of different faces I’ve seen in there in the first nine weeks of school. The one IA that was familiar with Sofija from last year, dug her fingernails into the palms of Sofija’s hands and left fingernail marks under her arms within the first three weeks of the school year. That was her last day.
I’ve been told that I’m the only parent that comes to the class daily and keeps track of what’s going on in the classroom. It is my guess that this is the reason I’ve been called to come get Sofija three out of the last four days that she’s been to school because she was just “having a bad day”. We’ve had two two-hour meetings and have yet to get to the behavioral intervention plan in her IEP. The behavioral coach and behavioral intervention specialist have contributed nothing to the classroom or to her IEP. In fact, I do not even know who they are. We have a BCBA and BCaBA that work with her in our home for forty hours/month and they have both spent time in the classroom. When asked, they put together behavior plans for the class that have yet to be implemented.
She is bored! We brought her home from Serbia in April of last year. At that time she spoke no English and did not know letters, numbers, colors or shapes. She mastered all of those and was speaking English fluently by the end of 2010. In January we started working on letter sounds and writing and working towards reading. She never quits when a new tasks is presented to her and she very quickly masters every new skill. She is literally acquiring 40-50 dolch words a week and she is able to pick up almost any book now and read through it. She is also able to independently write sentences. If she doesn’t know the words from memory she sounds them out. She can count money and make change. She’s even teaching herself to play the piano (It’s pretty amazing to hear her picking out songs by ear and singing along as she’s playing).
Having her in a room with children who cannot speak and who have physical disabilities has created a perfect storm for aggression. The other students have a much higher level of needs and when attention is being focused away from her and she has nothing to do, she acts out. When all of the adults in the classroom stop what their doing and focus on Sofija, her bad behavior is reinforced and it escalates. The more attention she gets, the worse her behavior becomes. It’s just become a vicious cycle and the staff doesn’t seem to be willing to do anything to break it.
At this point we are simply looking for another placement where both her academic and behavioral needs can be met. I know that APTS is great for behavior, but not so strong academically. We are planning to visit Phillips today. I’m hoping that somebody out there can give us some suggestions on schools to avoid or schools that they recommend.
If you read all the way through this and you have no connections in northern Virginia with schools or autism, feel free to pray for us to have clarity and peace about where she belongs. Our prayer is simply that she be in the environment where she can reach her full potential and be loved and nurtured.